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Rockets feel ready to contend in West

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HOUSTON (AP)

The Houston Rockets think they are ready to contend in the Western Conference, even after striking out on the big names in this summer's free-agent bonanza.

When their main target, Chris Bosh, opted to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Rockets turned their focus to luring center Brad Miller and retaining starting forward Luis Scola and point guard Kyle Lowry.

Houston introduced Miller on Tuesday and officially announced the re-signings of Scola and Lowry on Wednesday, the last major moves expected heading into next season. Even without Bosh, general manager Daryl Morey thinks the current roster is deep and talented enough to make a long playoff run.

''We feel very good about the set of players we have now,'' Morey said. ''We think it's a playoff team. We feel great about this team. We've got a lot of really high-quality players on this team, so improving it, it's going to be very, very difficult.''

The Rockets' hopes of returning to the postseason start with the healthy return of All-Star center Yao Ming, who missed last season following foot surgery. Morey says Yao is on schedule in his recovery and should be ready for training camp.

Houston was quiet early in free agency, but Morey vowed to match any offers to keep Scola and Lowry, who were restricted free agents. Lowry signed an offer sheet with Cleveland, and the Rockets matched it within a day.

''I didn't know if it would happen that fast, I didn't know if it would take seven days,'' Lowry said. ''But, hey, it happened in a quick enough way where we got it done.''

The 6-foot Lowry will again back up Aaron Brooks, voted the league's most improved player last season. Lowry said heading into the offseason that he would prefer a full-time starting role somewhere, but said Wednesday that he was happy to accept his old position.

''It's not an issue at all for me,'' Lowry said. ''Everyone knew I wanted to be a starter. The Rockets did what they had to do to retain my rights, and they had the option to match any offers out there. I'm back, I'm going to be the backup for Aaron, and things will work out how they're going to work out.''

The 6-foot-9 Scola started all 82 games last season, averaging 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. He has appeared in every regular-season game over the past three seasons.

Once free agency began on July 1, Scola said he was nervous waiting for a deal to get done. He agreed to a five-year contract worth about $47 million.

''I was never a free agent before, so it was kind of hard,'' Scola said. ''I kept repeating to myself that I was working hard every year of my life and something good will happen, it's going to be OK. It was just anxious, 15 days is not a lot of days, but when you are in this situation, it was a long time for me. I was just anxious to get it done.''

With Lowry and Scola signed, the Rockets have 15 players under contract for next season. Houston went 42-40 and missed the playoffs last year.

The Rockets acquired shooting guard Kevin Martin in February in a complex deal that sent Tracy McGrady to New York. Martin has yet to play with Yao, and Scola said the biggest issue for Houston now is building chemistry.

''We still have some work to do, making everything work, with Yao and Kevin especially,'' Scola said. ''But I think we are in pretty good shape. I think we've got all the pieces.''

Tagged: Rockets, Heat, Yao Ming, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola

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